Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

US Notebook: IRA supporter Peter King stirs up Tea Party in Oval Office bid

Contender: Peter King

The spectacle of yet another dysfunctional US governmental meltdown last week had many Americans rolling their eyes in disgust.

But for one erstwhile IRA supporter with Oval Office aspirations, the crisis has been a chance to make some political hay.

New York congressman Peter King, a Republican who's already announced that he'll be running for president in 2016, repeatedly and forcefully accused his party's Tea Party caucus in the House of Representatives of manufacturing the crisis that triggered the partial governmental shutdown.

Speaking to Fox News on the eve of the shutdown, King laid the blame firmly on Republican senator Ted Cruz of Texas, saying, "This was caused by Ted Cruz and his acolytes in the House of Representatives. They led us down this dead-end street."

Cruz, a Tea Party movement darling, is also considered a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2016. So King's attack was clearly calculated.

Ordinary Joes and Janes in Anywhere USA have long since tired of the partisan bickering in Washington.

And polls have shown that Americans are also tired of the Tea Party movement.

According to a Gallup opinion poll published in late September, only 22% of Americans support it – as opposed to 27% who oppose it. Some 51% professed not to care about the Tea Partiers either way.

So hammering one of the Tea Party's chief mouthpieces in Congress, at this stage at least, will help to establish King as a different kind of Republican in the public's eye.

When the gloves come off and real campaigning for the Oval Office gets into full swing in the summer of 2015, King's opponents will no doubt bring up his many past defences of the IRA.

But the man who once branded the British government a "murder machine" has also been cited by Bill Clinton as an "anchor of America's role in the Irish peace process".

The events of September 11 2001 altered the relationship of King – a senior figure on the House of Representatives' homeland security committee for years – with Irish republicans. Once a regular visitor to Belfast, he hasn't visited the city since 9/11.

In a 2011 Washington Post interview, he expressed disappointment with Sinn Fein. "We've not been that close over the last few years. I think they could have done more to stand by the US," King said.

"I am disappointed. When things did go wrong for the IRA, when civilians were killed, I tried to put it in context, not defend it."

It is far too soon to tell how King's attack on the Tea Party caucus will play out at the polls in 2016.

However, his attacks on Cruz may improve his stock with independent voters, the most pivotal constituency in American politics today.

In 2012, a whopping 40% of voters classed themselves as independent. That percentage is expected to rise in 2016.

Going by recent history, whoever carries the Republican banner in 2016 may be in luck. When it comes to the Oval Office, Americans tend to favour a periodic changing of the guard.

Peter King is not by any means a shoo-in for either the Republican nomination, or the White House itself, in 2016.

But, by laying into Ted Cruz and the Republican hard-Right last week, he no doubt improved his odds of succeeding.

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